For the people of Italy, plants are not just something to look at or to eat, but they are a way of life. Most importantly, for the people of Italy, plants are a sense of community.
As I was walking past a rather impressive garden in Castiglion Fiorentino on the long walk back home from the local train station one day, I stopped to admire its beauty right as the owner of the garden walked out of her house. I waved my hand towards the garden and shouted, “Bellisimo!” which caused the woman’s face to erupt into a huge smile as she thanked me for the compliment. The next day, nineteen friends and I walked four miles to a little house in order to make our own pizza with fresh flour, cheese, tomatoes, and olive oil supplied by the owners garden. On the way, we stopped to admire some beautiful purple mesembryanthemums hanging below an elderly couple’s fence. The couple was delighted to come over and bask in our compliments while they shared insightful information about the plants. Commonly called ice plants because of the ice-like crystals that form on the plant’s stems to reserve water, these flowers are very low maintenance. After several minutes of lighthearted chatting and admiration of their adorable 2-year-old granddaughter, their boxer, and their mesembryanthemums, we moved on.
When we arrived at the pizza-making place, we gathered around a long table, each kneading our own fresh dough and putting toppings on top of pizzas as the house’s owner, Romano, taught us how to do it properly. While eating the finished product, I not only tasted the delicious ingredients that composed the pizza, but I also tasted a sense of pride in our accomplishment as well as the fun and fellowship that we enjoyed while making it.
Italians have been doing it for centuries, but I’m also beginning to slow down to enjoy the marvel of plants as I see the potential that plants have to bring people together and provide so much more than just physical sustenance.